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Eos the Dawn Loves a Mortal


The Dawn Goddess Loves a Mortal
Eos (Dawn) pursuing Tithonus. Attic red-figure oinochoe, 470 BC–460 B.C. From Vulci.

Eos (Dawn) pursuing Tithonus. Attic red-figure oinochoe, 470 BC–460 B.C. From Vulci. Achilles Painter. Dimensions H. 22 cm (8 ½ in.), Diam. 13.5 cm (5 ¼ in.) Louvre.

Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

Rhododactylos 'rosy-fingered' Eos, a Greek Titan, offspring of Theia and Hyperion, and sister of Selene and Helios, features prominently in poetry to show the progression of time. Respectively, Eos, Selene, and Helios are the gods of the dawn, moon, and sun. The Latin for the (goddess of) dawn is Aurora.

Eos is often envisioned as riding her own team of horses across the sky. Sometimes she is described as accompanying her brother Helios through the day. Eos lives at the edge of the world-circling ocean. Like her sister Selene, Eos falls in love with mortal men. Of these, the most famous is her husband, Tithonus, whose story is told in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite.

Tithonus was a son of the Trojan King Laomedon [See Hercules and Laomedon]. The mating of Tithonus and Eos produced Memnon of Ethiopia who fatally faced Achilles in the Trojan War, and Emathion whom Hercules killed.

A human mating with an immortal had problems, most obviously, mortality. Since a god is deathless, generally, a marriage between mortal and immortal is a temporary arrangement. Eos wanted Tithonus to share her life, so she begged the king of the gods for a favor. She asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal. Like the proverbially mischievous genie of the lamp, Zeus granted this loaded request. Over time, Tithonus began to grow gray while Eos remained eternally beautiful and youthful. After growing gray, Tithonus grew weak. Eventually, Eos took pity on him and turned him into a grasshopper. Bulfinch tells the story of Aurora and Tithonus.

Ovid's Amores 1.13 takes the early-rising aspect of Eos or Aurora (Eos Erigeneia) to task from the vantage point of a male lover who doesn't want the night to end. In his Theogony, Hesiod refers to early-rising Eos as mother of the winds through a union with another immortal, Astraeus:

(ll. 378-382) And Eos bare to Astraeus the strong-hearted winds, brightening Zephyrus, and Boreas, headlong in his course, and Notus, -- a goddess mating in love with a god. And after these Erigenia bare the star Eosphorus (Dawn-bringer), and the gleaming stars with which heaven is crowned.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the following poem about Tithonus, in 1833:


The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man--
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask'd thee, "Give me immortality."
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work'd their wills,
And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me,
And tho' they could not end me, left me maim'd
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was in ashes. Can thy love
Thy beauty, make amends, tho' even now,
Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears
To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:
Why should a man desire in any way
To vary from the kindly race of men,
Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
From any pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
And bosom beating with a heart renew'd.
Thy cheek begins to redden thro' the gloom,
Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
And shake the darkness from their loosen'd manes,
And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.
Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
In silence, then before thine answer given
Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
"The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts."
Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
In days far-off, and with what other eyes
I used to watch (if I be he that watch'd)
The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
Glow with the glow that slowly crimson'd all
Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss'd
Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

Yet hold me not for ever in thine East;
How can my nature longer mix with thine?
Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die,
And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
Release me, and restore me to the ground;
Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave:
Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels.


Previous Myth Mondays:

  1. Hercules Hurls His Guest
  2. 2010 Myth Mondays

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